I’m terrified of the day I move out of my current apartment. Over the past three and a half years, I’ve steadily accumulated more and more kitchen and serving ware, and there are no signs of it slowing down. I’ve got the monopoly on kitchen space, taking up every odd nook and cranny with mixing bowls, Tupperware, cutting boards, pots, pans, and more. The storage nook above my closet, which most people would use for luggage or off-season clothing, houses my stand mixer, food processor, dutch oven, serving bowls, this big ole wine cooler, and much more.
And yet I know I’ll get more. I’m not being materialistic. I mean, I am, but I really do use it all. I have some kitchen tools that are kind of one-trick ponies, but not many. What can I say? I love to cook and bake and host dinners and parties. I have a food blog. It’s my thing. And though it’s not everybody’s thing, unless you solely feed yourself through Seamless, there are certain tools that every kitchen should have.
As I spend time cooking in kitchens besides my own, I find myself asking friends, “Do you have a sheet tray?” or, “What do you mean you don’t have a whisk?” or, “Where are the measuring cups?” Generally, my friends have the basics, but every now and then I find someone’s kitchen without something standard. So I decided to make this list and share it with you. Despite my well-stocked kitchenware, even I don’t have the best quality of every tool, so I’m including links to solid basics, but also to some higher-end tools. You can look at this post as a checklist for your own developing kitchen or as a bit of a kitchen gift-guide for a newly launched loved one (which could totally be yourself). Or just a loved one who needs a little bit of help stocking their not-so-new kitchen.
Pots & Pans
Non-stick fry pan – Perfect for eggs, stir fry…anything. Everything. So many things that I can’t even begin to list them all. Though some are dishwasher safe, I always say hand wash these puppies. They’re non-stick…they clean up so easily, it’s silly to waste dishwasher space on them.
Cast-iron skillet – Cast iron skillets are a classic. It will last you a lifetime and only gets better with age (and proper care). It can go from stovetop to the oven and it sears like a champ. In fact, a well-seasoned skillet is almost non-stick, so if you really wanted to, you could just go this route. I like to have skillets with different weights, though. 10 or 12-inch skillets are the best size to have. They’re a standard size – not too big, not too small.
Dutch oven – I think if you cook often and like trying lots of different recipes, a dutch oven is for you. If you like to cook, but it’s less of a hobby, a slow-cooker might be better. I can’t really speak to the pros/cons of slow-cookers because I don’t have one. In my mind, a slow-cooker is for dumping in ingredients, setting it and forgetting in. A dutch oven is for searing, stewing, sautéing, and all that good stuff. It goes from stovetop to oven, like a cast iron skillet, and will also last you a lifetime. I use mine for ricotta, soups, stews, bread-baking, and more. Le Creuset and Staub are the two big names in the dutch oven game. Most people register for one when they get married. I asked for one for Christmas a few years ago because I’m not waiting on a man to get one, ya feel me?
Large, heavy-bottomed pot – Perfect for pasta, grains, soups, and even making popcorn.
Smaller saucepan – To heat individual portions of soup, to make sauces, to scald milk, etc.
Baking Sheets and Dishes:
Jelly Roll Pans/Rimmed Baking Sheets *– For baking and roasting vegetables.
Baking Dish – A baking or a casserole dish is useful in so many ways. To begin with the obvious – casseroles. Think macaroni and cheese, lasagnas, and other equally comforting dishes good for a group. I also use mine as a roasting pan. I use it for roasting chickens more than anything else. Plus it’s good for marinating and dredging. I have a large and small dishes from Ikea and a pretty enamel dish that I got in Williamsburg when I wasn’t supposed to be spending money once.
Wooden spoons – Simple, pretty, and almost constantly in use. From stirring sauces to mixing batters to pushing around roast vegetables, wooden spoons are my go-to.
Rubber spatulas – A close second to wooden spoons. I use these for the same things, and especially for scraping every last liquid drop from fry pans and batter bowls. One of these is a must have.
Spatula – Think garden variety here. Mine aren’t great, but I get by. The best kind are said to be fish spatulas, and watching people use them, I’m inclined to agree. But for basic pancake-flipping you’ll get by with one of these.
Slotted spoon – If you eat pasta or boil/poach eggs, a slotted spoon is necessary. It may seem like something you won’t use a lot, but they’re like, $2.00. So just get one.
All you need here
Whisk – For eggs, batters, sauces, etc. There are many different kinds, and Joy the Baker can explain them all here. A French whisk or balloon whisk are basic and all you need.
All you need here
Tongs – For tossing pasta and salads and handling meats, amongst other things.
All you need here
Crock – To put all of your hand tools in for easy access.
Colander and strainer – For washing produce, draining pasta, and sifting. Plus, if you want to make ricotta, you’ll need a strainer. And who wouldn’t want to make ricotta? Bonus points if you get yourself a small strainer to strain your no pulp orange juice, which is exactly what I did until about age 16.
Grater and microplane –Pre-shredded cheese annoys the heck outta me. It’s so easy to grate cheese if you have a box grater. The quality and freshness of the cheese will be grately improved if you just do it yourself. (Lol, see what I did there?) A microplane is important for zesting and grating hard cheeses like Parmesan or Pecorino.
Quality knives – Before you get all up in arms here, just listen. You don’t have to get Wusthof to get quality knives. Just don’t get them at the grocery store, ya know? I recommend going into your local kitchen store and speaking with a sales associate. The important part here is caring for your knives. Do NOT put them through the dishwasher. Hand wash and let dry. You should also be able to find someone that will sharpen your knives. I hear a lot of farmer’s markets have someone to do that lately. If that’s not an option for you, google it. You’ll find something. As for knives you need – a serrated bread knife, a chef’s knife, and a paring knife will start you out just fine.
Cutting board – Get a solid, butcher block cutting board. I have a cheapie from Ikea and it does the job. A few plastic ones for handling raw meat are great, too.
Dish clothes/dish towels – For cleaning up the counter and drying dishes (or just putting in a picture to make it look prettier, lol), respectively.
Wine opener – Duh.
Measuring ‘n’ Mixing:
Mixing bowls – I have a thing for mixing bowls. I keep adding more and more to my wishlist. The best thing you can do is get a set of graduated mixing bowls – saves space but still gives you size options. I don’t have any with a spout, but that’s next on my mixing bowl wishlist.
Liquid measuring cups – Having a size variety is nice, but not necessary.
Basic variety here
Dry measuring cups – I always stay away from cutesy measuring cups. I think it’s harder to use them when they’re ceramic or come in shapes. Think simple metal. Doesn’t mean you can’t spring for a beautiful set if you find one.
Measuring spoons – I have the same thoughts about measuring spoons and I do about measuring cups. Simple and durable is best.
A different kind of power tool:
Food processor – My brother got me this awesome 3-cup food processor for Christmas a few years ago. He found it at some sort of thrift market, but it was never used. Just old. It was a deal. If you don’t feel like spending the money on a food processor, at least have a blender. For making pestos, salad dressing, breadcrumbs, and for quick grating, too!
Cuisinart food processor here
Stand mixer – I got lucky and got my parents’ hand-me-down when they upgraded for Christmas. But they had that baby for about 20 years. I’ll have to upgrade myself eventually, but it still kneads dough and creams butter and sugar like a pro. For a substitute, get yourself a hand mixer. Creaming butter and sugar by hand is annoying, and so is whisking heavy cream into whipped cream.
So there you have it! Everything you need for a well-equipped and functional kitchen. Any questions or comments? Add them below!